Liberty Media CEO Foresees Cable Mergers But Remains Coy About Charter’s Plans

DAVID LIEBERMAN, Executive Editor
May 8, 2013
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It’s natural to wonder whether Liberty Media Chairman John Malone’s new acquisition of 27.3% of Charter Communications is merely Step One in a plan to make him a U.S. cable titan — the role he played until 1999 when he sold Tele-Communications Inc to AT&T. And while Liberty CEO Greg Maffei doesn’t predict that, he also didn’t rule it out today in a quarterly earnings call with analysts. He says that cable “could be in for a round of consolidation” at a time when it’s so inexpensive to borrow money and large companies covet opportunities to cut costs — for example by negotiating lower prices from programmers. He cryptically adds that even though Charter can do just fine as a stand-alone entity, “we’ll see” whether it ends up being “a consolidator or condolidatee.” Liberty’s stock purchase agreement gives it the right over time to raise its stake to 40%. Will it do so? “We’ll see what time holds,” Maffei says.

Asked about other Liberty investments, Maffei says that he still has faith in Barnes & Noble even though Amazon’s proven to be “tenacious and smart” making it “a hard guy to compete against.” He hinted that Barnes & Noble could work with Google to make the NOOK “a fuller fledged tablet.” In addition, Maffei seemed to dismiss the idea that Liberty might sell the Atlanta Braves, noting that the team is in first place in the National League East. The Liberty CEO also talked up Sirius XM, which it controls. The satellite radio company is “the gift that keeps on giving.” He’s enthusiastic about prospects for Sirius XM to expand into auto security and information services, known as “telematics,” saying that he’s “not averse to accelerating that if the right acquisition came along at the right price.”

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